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Hostage Rescued; Bombs Kill 33

Iraqi and U.S. forces, acting on a tip, raided a dangerous Sunni neighborhood Wednesday and freed an Australian hostage who was hidden beneath a blanket, officials said. Elsewhere, 33 people died in suicide attacks, including 25 killed when a bomber dressed in Iraqi army uniform blew himself up in a mess hall.

Douglas Wood, a 64-year-old engineer who is a longtime resident of Alamo, Calif., said he was "extremely happy and relieved to be free again," according to a message read by Australia's counterterrorism chief Nick Warner.

The raid took place as part of Operation Lightning — a broader counterinsurgency operation that began in Baghdad on May 29, Warner said. He added there "was specific intelligence and tips that provided a hint at what might be found at that location."

In Khalis, about 45 miles north of Baghdad, the suicide bomber walked into the crowded mess hall wearing an army uniform and waiting until soldiers had gathered for lunch before blowing himself up, Iraqi army Col. Saleh al-Obeidi said.

The soldiers belonged to the Al-Salam battalion of the 2nd brigade of the Iraqi army in Diyala province.

The injured were being evacuated to a nearby hospital, Iraqi army Maj. Abbas Timimi said.

In other developments:

  • Five Iraqis were killed and another eight were injured when three mortar shells landed on a well-known Baghdad kebab restaurant, the Abu Ali, police said. A police headquarters building in western Baghdad's Shurta district was the apparent target, police said.
  • Eight Iraqi policemen were killed when a suicide bomber slammed into two police cars in the capital. Thirteen bystanders also were wounded as two police cars burst into flames at the intersection in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood, police said. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.
  • Iraqi legislators seemed close to agreement Wednesday on a demand by Sunni Arabs for more participation in the effort to draft a constitution. Such an agreement would help defuse growing sectarian tension between the majority Shiites, who control the government, and the Sunnis.
  • Two former Iraqi military officers with alleged links to al Qaeda were arrested Wednesday while planting roadside bombs, the interior ministry said. The father and son were arrested near Khaldiyah, some 75 miles west of Baghdad, said Col. Adnan Abdul Rahman, an interior ministry spokesman. They both served in the military under the regime of Saddam Hussein.
  • Insurgents blew up a pipeline near Baghdad late Tuesday that transports crude oil between the domestic refineries of Beiji and Dora, a police officer said Wednesday. It was still burning Wednesday, he added.
  • A gunbattle broke out in Baghdad's western Saydiyah neighborhood when gunmen opened fire on a police patrol, police Lt. Mohammed al-Heyali said. One Iraqi civilian was killed and six police officers were injured.
  • Two Bulgarian soldiers were killed and another injured late Tuesday when their vehicle slid from a dike into a canal about 34 miles southeast Diwaniya, a city in south-central Iraq where about 400 Bulgarian soldiers are serving.
  • Police battled with and killed two gunmen in the oil-rich northern city of Kirkuk early Wednesday, a day after a suicide bomber killed 23 people and wounded nearly 100 after striking outside a bank as retirees waited to cash their pension checks.

  • Although there was no immediate claim of responsibility for the Khalis attack, it bore the hallmarks of Iraq's radical extremist groups — which regularly use suicide attackers.

    In one such attack Tuesday in northern Kirkuk, a man wearing a similar belt loaded with explosives killed 23 people and wounded nearly 100 after striking outside a bank as retirees waited to cash their pension checks.

    Al Qaeda's northern affiliate, the Ansar al-Sunnah Army, claimed responsibility and threatened more violence in retaliation for the arrests and killings of Sunni Arabs.

    Wood was freed by the Iraqi army's 2nd battalion, 1st Armored Brigade, with assistance by U.S. forces in Ghazaliya — one of the most dangerous Sunni Arab neighborhood of Baghdad, Warner said. He added that "no ransom was paid" despite a request for a "very large" amount of money.

    Wood was found under a blanket and the insurgents told troops he was their sick father, said Gen. Naseer al-Abadi, Iraq's deputy chief of staff. The operation also resulted in the arrest of three insurgents and release of an Iraqi hostage.

    "This is a great day for Iraq. We are proud of the way our soldiers conducted themselves," al-Abadi said.

    Wood was abducted in late April by a militant group calling itself the Shura Council of the Mujahedeen of Iraq.

    The Australian government refused to bend to the kidnappers' demands that its 1,400 troops be withdrawn from Iraq. It sent diplomats, police and military personnel to Baghdad to seek his release.

    "I am delighted to inform the House that the Australian hostage in Iraq, Mr. Douglas Wood, is safe," Prime Minister John Howard told Parliament in Canberra, Australia.

    Howard told reporters an Iraqi military unit, in cooperation with U.S. forces, rescued Wood.